After years of dispute over the management of Surabaya Zoo, the central government on Tuesday said it would officially hand full authority of the controversial zoo to Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini, ensuring substantial changes in its operations and its treatment of animals.
“This definitive license will be given to the mayor this week,” Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said following a meeting with Rismaharini and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
The Surabaya Zoo is Indonesia’s oldest zoo and was held the widest collection of animals in Southeast Asia, with 351 species in its care. Zulkifli conceded that management problems had long been an issue, with dispute over control of the zoo dating back to the 1980s.
In July last year, the city administration unilaterally took over the running of the zoo from a temporary management team that was appointed in February 2010 by the Forestry Ministry following the disappearance and suspicious deaths of several animals.
Rismaharini, in justifying the takeover at the time, claimed that the caretaker team had done little to stanch the spate of animal deaths and that its plan to invite private investors to help in managing the zoo was a ruse to demolish it and build a hotel on the city-owned land.
Zulkifli said that the under the city’s care, the zoo’s management would be replaced with new individuals with no conflicting interests.
“The management will oversee the maintenance of animal pens and their food, among other things. There will also be an audit in a partnership between the mayor and Airlangga University on the issue of animal overpopulation,” he said.
He added that if audit results concluded that the zoo had more animals than it could adequately care for, the government would transfer some of the animals to other zoos and conservation facilities — a policy that the caretaker team had put into place since 2010, but which Rismaharini claimed was a guise for selling the animals on the black market.
“The president has called for a solution to avoid more animal deaths,” Zulkifli said.
Tuesday’s meeting was also attended by East Java Governor Soekarwo and Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya.
During the meeting, Yudhoyono said he had received plenty of reports from the public about the poor conditions in which animals at the zoo were kept.
“They reminded me that the deaths in Surabaya Zoo had become the focus of the international community and feared that such an issue would give outsiders the impression that we don’t care about our zoos,” he said.
“Let’s find the best solution, and when it has been formulated, explain it to the public. Of course we will not forget the events that have occurred. There is always a way out or a solution.”
Soekarwo expressed appreciation for the government’s decision to officially hand control of the zoo to the city, which has been the de facto operator since July, but emphasized that improvements would take time.
“This is no magic trick, it’s a long process. That is why we need to wait,” he said, adding that he hoped the zoo’s new management would be able to provide a better environment for the animals.
Tuesday’s decision was also welcomed by Wayan Titib Sulaksana, a former official at the zoo.
“We were always in support of having the city administration take over the zoo,” said Titib, who is also a lecturer at Airlangga University’s law school.
He suggested that the mayor order the zoo’s employees — some of whom were retained from the different regimes that ran the zoo — to work together for the betterment of the zoo and set aside any rivalries.
Titib said Surabaya Zoo should also reorganize its hiring system to bring in fresh officials without prejudiced views about the running of the zoo.